A 1500 word essay on the following: Analyse how everyday life is now experienced through Internet-mediated activities of information and communication with reference to Community and faith/religion. Instruction: analyse how everyday life is experienced through Internet-mediated activities of information and communication on Community and faith/religion. Online – Heidelberg Journal of Religions on the Internet 3.1 (2008) 95 RITUALS AND PIXELS EXPERIMENTS IN ONLINE CHURCH SIMON JENKINS Back in the late 1970s, I was among a group of theology graduates who launched a small magazine called Ship of Fools. We subtitled it, ‘the magazine of Christian unrest,’ because we wanted to ask critical questions about the church and satirise the unintentionally laughable side of the Christian faith, both historically and in the contemporary world. The Scottish politician Nick Fairbairn used to say: ‘One of the great difficulties of Christianity is that it keeps falling into the hands of the wrong people.’ We wanted to debate, satirise and create laughter about that, from a committed faith position. We believed that selfcriticism is an important part of faith. On April Fools Day, 1998, we relaunched Ship of Fools as a net magazine (at http://shipoffools.com). We immediately found the net very conducive to what we wanted to do – much more conducive than print had ever been. Entering the net was like entering a new world for us, a world which was more fluid in terms of communication, and where your readers (to use the old language of print) became active participants in what you were doing. Ship of Fools very quickly became popular not just as an online magazine, but as a virtual community. Each month it currently attracts over 130,000 visitors, who look at 2.7 million pages. The community dimension of Ship of Fools is delivered via bulletin boards. The boards function like a genuine community, with people getting to know each other, pray for each other, meet up in real life, and sometimes marry each other, too. There have been six marriages I know of, and I was Best Man at one of them. In 2002, one of our members, whose alias on the boards was Miss Molly, was diagnosed with terminal lung cancer. She decided to share the last three months of her life with us, in a thread she posted called ‘Fields of Gold’, named after the song by Sting. ‘It will be a sort of diary,’ she said, ‘a place to post my musings, and a place where I will try to answer any questions you may have about this time in my life.’ Online – Heidelberg Journal of Religions on the Internet 3.1 (2008) 96 Figure 1: Ship of Fools website. The response from the community was amazing. The hospital where Miss Molly was being treated received so many bunches of flowers, cards and other gifts that the nursing staff asked her if she was a film star. She received practical and emotional support during those months, including a quilt which was put together by a team from pieces sent from all over the world. After three months, and almost 1,000 posts on the thread, Miss Molly died. This episode had a very powerful effect in strengthening the bonds of the community. Looking at events such as this, over the nine years we’ve been running online community, we’ve often asked ourselves if we could ever be a church, or ever run as a sort of alternative church online. But we always reached the same answer of No, essentially because we believed that running an act of worship online would need a greater sense of place than we had. We felt that the key difference would be to have somewhere that looked and felt like sacred space, and which gave a visible metaphor for people meeting together. And that was something we just did not have. Online – Heidelberg Journal of Religions on the Internet 3.1 (2008) 97 The Ark: Internet reality gameshow (2003) The following year, in 2003, we were able to realize a big project which created 3D space online. Here was the concept we followed: ‘Have you ever found yourself wondering what it would be like if you got some of the best known characters of the Bible together in a bar for a drink or two? How would they get on, these saints and sinners, these heroes and villains of the Bible? Would Moses compare beard lengths with John the Baptist? Would Eve offend Paul with her figleaf costume?